Beyond Satire: The first annual UC Merced-Pomboza Fairy Shrimp Festival!

We used to have some self-respect and pride in the Valley. We worked hard, weren’t rich, but were deeply involved in our communities, in our agriculture, our economy, and in our environment.

The greatest threat to that self-respect – based on a sense of reality and truth – that we have ever seen is UC Merced-Pomboza. And all that is pathetically distorted about this land scheme masquerading as a university is epitomized in its first “Family-Oriented Fairy Shrimp Festival” to be held on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22.

This event is so twisted it is very difficult to get one’s head around all that is wrong with it. Symbolically devouring all you can eat of an endangered species (sea shrimp as surrogate for fairy shrimp) is a grotesque idea and yet it expresses perfectly the aggression of the University of California. UC, an institution under major, prolonged attack for political and financial corruption and sheer administrative incompetence, must spin, duck, dodge, divert attention and manifest its omnipotence. This is an institution that claims infallibility and will never admit any error. It is after all, the UC: it claims universal scientific validity and creates and designs the most awesome weapons of mass destruction ever known, even if its security scandals on two of its three national laboratories in recent years it nearly lost its bid to retain Los Alamos.

To a large extent, the San Joaquin Valley has been free until recent years of institutions and even political leaders claiming infallibility. We aren’t used to it; it doesn’t make sense to us; and we don’t believe in it.

First, let us think about the students, but not, for a moment as our famously “underserved Valley Hispanic population of students” who won’t move away from home and therefore must have a UC campus in Merced. Although there are some people who fit this description, the years spent beating this symbol to death before opening UC Merced doors to a small group of undergrads, the majority from urban Southern California, was a classic exercise in propaganda, complete with busloads of brown-skinned third graders dumped in the state Capitol corridors. It trivialized Hispanics and it trivialized education from K-PhD. It was abominable. But infallible UC commits no errors of taste, judgment or science.

Instead, let us consider the real, existing students at UC Merced as students, people more children than adult, trapped out there on the former golf course, playthings of the UC flaks, surrounded by seasonal pasture lands full of vernal pools and 15 endangered species, including four or five varieties of fairy shrimp and an amazing assortment of bees, some of which are specific to only certain pools.

In fact, the majority of children at UC Merced come from metropolitan Southern California. They don’t know anything about the Valley, ecologically or otherwise, and they don’t care. There is no criticism here. They have their own urban agendas that will guide their educations and good luck to them. It is fortunate for them that they don’t care, because they won’t learn a thing about Valley ecology at UC Merced beyond a few random, disconnected “facts.” All of that information is “political,” therefore it will be kept in the most fragmented form imaginable. Ask UC biologists who found the Merced campus an atrocious site but were silenced.

The vernal pools of eastern Merced are amazing tiny wildernesses full of species that represent the last remnants of native grasses and animals in the Valley, including varieties of bees some of which are specific to single ponds.

UC Merced-Pomboza, which loudly, insistently, continually, with completely consistent deceit, announces itself as the first “environmental campus” in the UC system, must deny and trivialize the endangered species that remain legal obstacles to its plan to develop the land bought for it by the state and private foundations. UC Merced-Pomboza must deny its own scientists, who remain appalled at the grotesque environmental destruction of this campus site, the political corruption behind it, and the railroading of state and most federal resource agencies to sign off on it. UC Merced-Pomboza must continue forever its campaign to obliterate any notion that it is profoundly involved in the drive to extinguish several endangered species in this region.

In short, the UC Merced-Pomboza administration, backed by the UC administration and its board of regents, are infallible liars, just another gang of real estate developers scoring in the Valley, who will never admit any error because they are UC. In the face of all reality and truth, UC officials deny with consistent deceit that they are the largest developer in the region and the anchor tenant for the growth that is extinguishing the endangered fairy shrimp. They are liars and they are weak. They have dived into the pockets of the regional developer consortium (introductions thoughtfully provided by regents in on the land deal from the beginning). They have borrowed from the twisted rhetoric of local developers like the chairman of the county Planning Commission, whose new towns, Fox Hills I and II, lie in the habitat of the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox.

The first annual UC Merced-Pomboza Fairy Shrimp Festival (all the shrimp you can eat), a perversion of Earth Day if there ever was one, is a direct assault on endangered species. Even this has a particular political meaning this year, when Pete McCloskey, one of the founders of Earth Day and authors of the Endangered Species Act, is running for office. He is running against Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, the front end of the Pomboza. The Pomboza is the duo of congressmen who are the principle authors of the Gut-the-ESA, now languishing in the US Senate. The rear end of the Pomboza is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, who has tried twice already to gut the critical habitat designation section of the ESA because it interferes with UC and other developers’ plans to rip up and pave over the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley, home of the richest vernal pool complexes in the nation, in which live – you guessed it – federally listed, endangered fairy shrimp species.

But it is both more and less than an assault on endangered species. First of all, it is an arrogant assertion of UC’s power to get away with acts of species extinction without having to admit any responsibility, culpability or agency. Second, it is a pathetic little fiction cooked up by a third-rate institution dominated by the most shortsighted, narrow, anti-environmental profit motives. It uses all the right words and simultaneously empties them of all their right content by placing them in degrading context.

The UC Merced-Pomboza development scheme is also destroying the watershed coming out of the Sierra foothills. If you think we have floods now, just wait a few years when more of that upland region is paved and roofed over.

The corruption of public education for private profits behind this event is gagging, morally and intellectually insulting. Adult Americans realize that higher education, particularly research science, frequently prostitutes the Public Trust, public health and public safety for corporate profits. We know that when Bush regime rattles nuclear weapons at Iran, UC is profoundly, morally, inescapably involved through its two weapons of mass destruction laboratories in Livermore and Los Alamos. We should not be naïve.

On the other hand, our self-respect is revolted by the site of UC Merced-Pomboza exploiting relatively innocent and certainly ignorant students in our own backyard, peddling them as future political leaders, pimping their developing student government, all under the banner of fairy shrimp. This is not how we would wish college students to be treated in our region – as weapons against genuine local environmental concern.

Satire is silenced by events. The Valley doesn’t need more satire; it needs less reason for it.

Partly, UC Merced-Pomboza students are being marketed by the UC Bobcatflaksters as a future generation of political leaders. We, the public – at least we, the family-oriented public, whatever the hell that means -- are being invited to contribute to their student government. One would have thought that would be part of the normal operating expenses of any UC campus except, when we read the press on the on-going scandals of UC executive pay, we realize where those political enrichment funds are going, right along with higher tuition fees.

What do we get out of this fundraiser, I wonder. Is there any influence on the UC Merced-Pomboza student legislature one would want to purchase as this mock political bazaar? A bill to forbid students from vehicular homicide of Hispanic pedestrians around campus, at least after dark, perhaps?

Do we wish to encourage the idea in a potential new generation of political leaders that the first law of politics is fundraising? One would prefer something a little bit more intellectually challenging, like justice, honor, honesty, truth – something like that.

But the moment we think that idealistic thought, we encounter serious cognitive dissonance.

How can we ask a university that features a Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho government policy institute such a question? How absurd to question this approach to politics in the congressional district of Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced? How could anyone who has ever watched a UC Merced-Pomboza official or any other UC administrator testify before a state legislative committee imagine that politics at UCM-P would be conceived in terms of justice, honor or honesty? How naïve could one be after listening to UC Merced-Pomboza lawyers argue dead against environmental regulation where it applies to UC Merced-Pomboza? Who could ever have heard UC officials casually dismiss Valley social and natural history or deny that UC Merced-Pomboza is the area’s largest developer – heard them dismiss and deny everything that ever happened before they arrived – and continue to imagine this is an institution committed to justice, honor, honesty and truth?

And how about courage? The cabal of local rightwingers attacks a couple of faculty spouses for perfectly legitimate political activity and suddenly – political spouses vanished from public view – the campus celebrates Earth Day as a “family-oriented” (fairy) shrimp feed? We have deep, abiding experience here in the Valley with rightwing demagogues and nobody ever got anywhere cowering in the dark to hide from them.

Family-Oriented Fairy Shrimp Festival Makes its Debut on Saturday, April 22, reads the headline on the UC Merced press release.

Shrimp Feed Also Hosted to Raise Funds for Student Government

The Office of Student Life at UC Merced invites everyone to join in a celebration of the creative spirit and sustainable living at the first-ever Fairy Shrimp Festival on Saturday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In conjunction with the free festival, students will host an all-you-can-eat shrimp feed and silent auction from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. to raise funds for the Associated Students of UC Merced with a dance to follow immediately afterward.

"We are launching what will become an annual springtime event, with a program designed to showcase both the arts and environmental issues in a fun and family-friendly atmosphere," said Jim Greenwood, Fairy Shrimp Festival coordinator and student affairs officer. "This is a great opportunity to bring the campus and community together for a festival that we hope will continue to grow and evolve over the years."

This is puerile flak. While we expect undergraduates to be puerile, we can object to puerile adults guiding their education.

First, there are the code words “family-oriented.” But how much does the event cost?

Shrimp feed tickets will be available at the door for a cost of $10 for UC Merced staff members and students, $20 per person for non-staff/students, $35 per couple and $45 for a family with two adults and two children.

That’s quite a bit more than the cost of going out to Lake Yosemite and having a family barbecue.

We have a “family-oriented,” all-you-can-eat “shrimp feed” under the symbol of the Fairy Shrimp. There are four or five species of fairy shrimp on land UCM-P would dearly love to build on but has encountered difficulties building on because these species are endangered along with 10 associated plant species and a fascinating assortment of bees. UC moved the first phase of its campus onto the site formerly occupied by the municipal golf course. It has not yet applied for its Clean Water Act permit, which includes an analysis of the least environmentally destructive site. The taxpayers and two private foundations paid the Virginia and Cyril Smith Trusts millions for property and for easements to mitigate the destruction of fairy shrimp habitat. UC Merced-Pomboza denials that it will have to move later phases of the campus onto the Hunt property, officially slated for a “university community,” have now reached a state of complete incoherence, which will soon manifest itself in court where they will argue for the adequacy of an environmental review process for a project they will not be building, without being able to admit the project they will be building. The only thing likely to be more incoherent than UC lawyers’ arguments will be the local judge’s acceptance of them, because, after all, UC said it so it must be – if not true – at least more career enhancing for a local judge than the truth.

The myth is simple: UC is infallible and cannot admit error. Yet it doesn’t have its proper federal environmental permits. Congressman Shrimp Slayer does not seem to be able to crush all criticism in the federal resource agencies and has not yet been able to crush the Endangered Species Act. So, naturally, UC Merced-Pomboza, “the environmental UC campus,” throws the first annual all-you-can-eat shrimp feed under the banner of Fairy Shrimp.

This stinks like “sushi in Barstow,” as one local resident put it.

The “family-oriented” term is perhaps a sop to the rightwing cabal that is the local front for real estate interests. On the other hand, there may be a much simpler explanation for the emphasis on a family orientation: corrupt nepotism.

The event coordinator, James Greenwood, 43, was mentioned in a San Francisco Chronicle article late last year about his mother, former UC Provost M.R.C. Greenwood. Provost Greenwood, the second highest official in the UC administrative hierarchy, was forced to resign when confronted with the evidence of conflicts of interest in real estate.

James Greenwood, who has a background in youth ministry, previously applied for three student affairs positions at UC Merced and UC Davis, using contacts provided by his mother. He did not make it to the interview round for any of the jobs, UC's auditor said in the report released Wednesday.

On his resume, Greenwood listed Goff (the provost’s real estate business partner and employee) and two UC Davis professors as references. Public records show that one of the professors owned property with Greenwood's mother, and the other professor had worked with her.

After James Greenwood's unsuccessful search for a job, Doby asked UC Merced Vice Chancellor Jane Lawrence this past July whether she would create an internship for him if the campus had the funding.

A day or two later, Doby informed UC Merced that his office would provide funding for an internship position for Greenwood, the report said. Greenwood was then hired as the only candidate for the $45,000-a-year internship.

So, Greenwood’s mother’s office, no longer occupied by Greenwood’s mother, is paying for her evidently unemployable son to run an all-you-can-eat shrimp feed at the first annual UC Merced-Pomboza Fairy Shrimp Festival. Meanwhile, Mother Greenwood, 62, got off with a 15-month leave at $300,00 plus a promise to return as a tenured faculty member at UC Davis at $168,000 a year plus $100,000 in research funds.

Now we are at last on familiar (sic) grounds: UC corruption. We are expected to accept this because UC is infallible and never errs? If we object, in our simple, self-respectful way, we are told that we are so inferior and caught up in things as plain as the noses on our faces, that we cannot see the grand vision (in which UC is infallible and without error). If we don’t participate in this myth-for-idiots, we are marginalized like the fairy shrimp. And this is how it is done:

Young Greenwood is billing this shrimp feed as everything right.

Coinciding with the national observation of Earth Day 2006, this year's festival also introduces a focus on environmental concerns, the bobcatflak intones piously. Representatives from UC Merced and civic organizations will be on hand to promote environmental awareness, describe campus and community environmental stewardship initiatives and share tips on sustainable living.

The authorities will express environmental concerns, promote environmental awareness, environmental stewardship initiatives and sustainable living.

By promoting an event that features an all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy of another kind of shrimp, under the symbolic banner of the endangered shrimp whose habitat the authorities are destroying physically and politically, they strip environmental concern, awareness, stewardship of all meaning. It’s clever propaganda, befitting of an institution claiming absolute infallibility.

By wrapping itself in Green Babble, UC Merced-Pomboza continues to try to divert local public attention from the huge environmental damage it has caused locally. Behind the back of the local public it supports politically the gutting of the Endangered Species Act because the ESA got in UC’s way. It continues to run roughshod over the California Environmental Quality Act and it perverts the process of public participation in local land-use decisions wherever and whenever the public might question a UC project. Next month the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on a case in which UC has taken a strong, wrong position. The question that will be before the court is whether a state agency must pay to mitigate the impact of its project on areas and communities beyond the physical site of that project. UC’s amicus brief argued that if state agencies must pay for these off-site mitigations, UC Merced-Pomboza would have to pay an estimated $200 million for mitigation for its off-site impacts.

In the end, a lot of UC behavior toward its surrounding communities and natural resources is understandable simply as the behavior of one more arrogant, greedy corporation like Hilmar Cheese. But when the public sees continual whoring of the university’s fundamental, core function – offering first-class, publicly subsidized, higher education with a strong emphasis on scientific research – a disgust sets in along with contempt for a university so corrupt now that all it believes is its own propaganda myth, beginning with the proposition that it has a right to unlimited public funds to go on violating the Public Trust.

So far this campus has shown us nothing but that it is what it has been labeled by critical, unfrightened defenders of the public treasury: a boondoggle and a land deal.

That is unacceptable. Badlands urges a public boycott of this event. Badlands does not care whether anybody follows this advice or not. In our opinion, the first annual UC Merced-Pomboza Fairy Shrimp Festival is an absolutely inexcusable waste of public funds in a time of serious flood threat, and cannot help but be bad for the minds of those who attend it.

Bill Hatch


Family-Oriented Fairy Shrimp Festival Makes its Debut on Saturday, April 22
Shrimp Feed Also Hosted to Raise Funds for Student Government
April 12, 2006

Conflict of interest found for UC provost
Despite violations, she got paid leave and offer of new job
Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack, Chronicle Staff Writers
Thursday, December 22, 2005 c/a/2005/12/22/MNG60GBT611.DTL - 34k

Jan. 7, 2002